By Nicolino Dibenedetto
(AP) — For most teams a three-game winning streak is common, but it would be the longest in more than a year for the New Jersey Devils while the Florida Panthers would match a season high.
Only one team will achieve that Saturday night when the NHL-worst Devils visit the last-place Panthers for the first of three meetings in just under three weeks.
While New Jersey (12-29-2) and Florida (20-20-2) have struggled for much of the 2010-11, both clubs have shown signs of putting together strong stretches.
New Jersey’s scoring output against the Lightning came after it was outscored 42-16 during a 1-10-0 stretch. Friday’s win also snapped an 11-game road losing streak since beating defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago on Nov. 3.
“You could tell because every time we’d take the bus everybody’s sad or mad or not happy,” goaltender Martin Brodeur said of the Devils’ struggles on the road, where they’re 5-16-0. “At least for the time being we’ll be able to talk to each other on the bus on the way to the airport.”
The Devils haven’t won three in a row since a five-game run from Dec. 12-21, 2009.
Concluding this three-game trip against the New York Islanders on Monday might give New Jersey a chance to get closer to matching that streak, but first they’ll have to contend with the Panthers.
The Devils and Panthers split four meetings last season, including two at the BankAtlantic Center.
Florida has won the first two games of its six-game homestand, following up Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win over Washington with a 3-2 victory against Nashville on Wednesday.
The Panthers, 3-1-1 in the last five home meetings with New Jersey, are in position to match their longest winning streak from Dec. 4-9. They’ve gained confidence after Rostislav Olesz and David Booth scored 2:14 apart late in the third period to rally over the Predators.
“It was a character win,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “…We’re not a team that can make five passes all the way up the ice and is not going to ‘wow’ anyone with our skills, so we have to score those dirty goals and get to the net.”
Booth has three goals and two assists in his last four games. He’s also been very effective at home, scoring 11 of his team-high 13 goals there after getting one in each of the last three games in south Florida.
Booth has no points in his last two meetings with the Devils after getting three goals and three assists in the previous five.
New Jersey is finally getting production from star Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored two goals Friday after setting up two Sunday. His 12 goals lead the team, but also has the worst plus/minus rating in the league at minus-27.
Kovalchuk has 31 goals and 28 assists in 49 games against the Panthers.
These teams meet on Jan. 23 and Feb. 4 in New Jersey.
© 2011 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.